ʿĀŠEQ, in Azerbaijan (both in Iran and Azerbaijan SSR) a poet and minstrel who accompanies his singing on a long-necked, fretted, plucked chordophone known as a sāz (q.v.). These poet-minstrels have lived and performed among Turkic peoples since before the advent of Islam. Each group has its own name for the musician, and the musical instrument changes from region to region as well. ʿĀšeq comes from Arabic and means “in love.” The term ʿāšeq referring to the poet-minstrel appears in literature for the first time in the fifteenth century. Before that time similar minstrels were called ozān (Başgöz, “Turkish Folk Stories,” pp. 331-39).
Suggestions have been made as to why the name āšeq has been given to these musicians. According to Chodzko (Popular Poetry of Persia, pp. 12-13), the term referred to a musician who traveled with acrobats and jugglers to nomad encampments and to weddings. Slobin reports (Instrumental Music in Northern Afghanistan, p. 199) that the terms ʿāšeq, maǰnūn (mad), and mast (drunk) were all used to describe musicians. He feels that such terms indicate definite cultural attitudes about the personality of the professional musician.
In the years before the Islamic Revolution in Iran, ʿāšeqs frequently performed in coffee houses in all the major cities of east and west Azerbaijan in Iran. Tabrīz was the eastern center for the ʿāšeqs and Urmia the western center. In Tabrīz ʿāšeqs most often performed with two other musicians, a bālābān player and a gāvāl player; in Urmia the ʿāšeq was always a solo performer.
In eastern Azerbaijan, the ʿāšeq and his troupe usually performed a genre of lyrical poem which they called ʿāšeqhawāsī (q.v.). These poems were cast in quatrain from, usually eleven syllables per line and three to five stanzas a poem. (In Azerbaijan SSR and Turkey, this form is one of many and is called qošmā or kosma.) In Iranian Azerbaijan, ʿāšeqs perform other short poems as well. The bayātī is one of these and is often improvised.
In western Azerbaijan, while the ʿāšeqs do perform ʿāšeqhawāsī and other short poem forms, their genre of preference is the dāstān. The dāstāns can be divided roughly into two main types: the heroic epic, such as Kuroḡlū, and the romantic tale, such as Aṣlī o Karam. The dāstāns are lengthy, some running up to fifteen hours, and are recited serially over a period of several days. The performer tells the story in a speaking voice, but when the main characters speak, their parts are sung.
In addition to performances in coffee houses, the ʿāšeq also performs at weddings and on other festive occasions. Before the revolution, these men appeared regularly on radio and television in the provinces of Azerbaijan as well.
The ʿāšeqs seem to continue the tradition of the gōsāns, the minstrels of pre-Islamic times.
See also ʿĀšeq Hawāsī.
C. Albright, “The Azerbaijani ʿĀshiq and his Performance of a Dāstān,” Iranian Studies 9/4, 1976, pp. 220-47 (a detailed discussion of Azerbaijani dāstāns).
Idem, The Music of the Professional Musician in Northwest Iran (Azerbaijan), doctoral thesis, University of Washington, Seattle, 1976 (musical analysis of Azerbaijani hawās).
İ. Basgöz, “Turkish Folk Stories about the Lives of Minstrels,” Journal of the American Folklore Society, 65, 1952, pp. 331-39.
V. M. Beliaev, Central Asian Music, tr. G. and M. Slobin, Middletown, Conn., 1975, pp. 19, 142-43.
P. N. Boratav, “L’Epopée et la “Hikaye”,” Philologiae Turcicae Fundamenta, Stuttgart, 1965, p. 34. A. B. Chodzko, Specimen of the Popular Poetry of Persia, London, 1842.
G. Lewis, The Book of Dede Korkut, Harmondsworth, England, 1974, p. 18.
M. S. Slobin, Instrumental Music in Northern Afghanistan, doctoral thesis, University of Michigan, 1969.
(C. F. Albright)
Originally Published: December 15, 1987
Last Updated: August 16, 2011
This article is available in print.
Vol. II, Fasc. 7, pp. 741-742